Entry to the underwater photography exhibition of Stefanos Kontos will be free for all. But attendees will first have to past a test which for many will equate to a rite of initiation.
Kontos is a photographer and free diver who, in the autumn of 2015, “submerged” the planetarium of the Eugenides Foundation beneath the waves, offering over 30,000 visitors a taste of the magic of diving “on one breath”. Now he is doing away entirely with the line separating art from adventure, passive viewers from active participants.
The “Underwater Gallery” which will be temporarily installed in an undersea cave off the island of Amorgos at depths of 7-17m is only accessible to those willing to make the plunge, either by free-diving or with the assistance of scuba gear. In this unique environment underwater photographs taken by Kontos will be put on display from September 19-22. All of the photographs are from Greek waters and taken from free dives – i.e. dives made without the use of scuba gear. Kontos maintains that the use of breathing apparatus prevents divers from fully connecting with the underwater environment.
However the exhibition’s uniqueness is not limited to the fact that it is being staged underwater. It will also be set up exclusively by free divers. Kontos and seven other divers who agreed to join him on this obstacle-strewn mission will transfer and install the works together with the entirety of the necessary equipment weighing hundreds of kilos without the use of scuba tanks. They will, in other words, have just 2-3 minutes on every dive with each one of them using this tiny window to complete tasks that have been designed down to the last detail.
A World First
“Nothing similar has ever been tried in the past on a global basis,” Stefanos Kontos said in an interview with Kathimerini newspaper shortly before he traveled to Amorgos for the final stage of the project.“It is a small or great feat of human will, right on the edge of the possible.”
Everything must be placed in its correct spot, so that the final result with be aesthetically balanced and functional: the special lighting system will need to be set up correctly; the easels where the large scale works will be displayed (printed on aluminum to survive underwater) will need to be positioned and secured with anchors and elastic ropes so that they are not swept away by currents.
“We were forced to come up with solutions to challenges that we had not imagined that we would face. We lost an easel and we found it at a depth of 40 meters. We discovered that underwater it is very difficult to make measurements as your eyes themselves deceive you.”
Essentially the “Underwater Gallery” is the continuation of the exhibition “Greece Underwater – on a Single Breath” through which Stefanos Kontos attempted to create “a simulation of the undersea environment on the surface”. That led him to come up with the idea of an underwater exhibition about the world beneath the waves.
“At first it was only a dream, in due course however I discovered that materials were evolving and that it was now possible for them to survive in the sea, and gradually I found solutions to problems which I had thought were insurmountable,” he explains. “And so this time last year, when I found myself in Amorgos and I dived at the specific cave, as soon as I saw the location and its amphitheatrical shape, which creates the impression of a closed cave but which is open on one side the idea became lodged in my brain to set up this exhibition.”
His main goal is to “force” the viewer to adopt an interactive relationship with the works, removing all distractions and outside interferences. “In this space you are isolated and completely focused on what you are seeing. My hope is for there to be – be it three, four, or fifty-four visitors who will experience something incredible, something that they haven’t experienced before. Unique yet totally real.”
Daring visitors without prior diving experience will have the opportunity to obtain a special package from the local diving school, which will include a few hours of lessons, equipment rental (a wet suit, scuba gear, etc.) and someone to accompany them into the cave. The setting up of and operation of the exhibition will be filmed, with the hope that the footage will be used in a future documentary. Impressive material is expected to be shot when the cave is visited by athletes taking part in the international free diving competition, the Authentic Big Blue which will coincide with the exhibition, as well as during a nighttime tour for the public which has been planned for September 21.
For more information about Stefanos Kontos and his work visit www.singlebreathphoto.com